Dating Tips For Single Caregivers

If you have an aging or ill parent, finding the time and energy to date can be challenging, to say the least. Follow this advice for tending to your caretaking duties without having to sacrifice your social life.

By Margot Carmichael Lester

truggling to manage parental care with you social life? You’re not alone.

According to published research from Bowling Green State University’s National Center for Family and Marriage Research (NCFMR), one-third of adults between the ages of 45
Many single people… forgo dating because they don’t have the energy.
and 63 in the U.S. are currently unmarried. And earlier this year, The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 40 million people — most of them baby boomers — provide care to an aging parent. This means that there are a lot of folks out there who are attempting to balance their role as a caregiving son or daughter while also looking a romantic partner.

“People taking care of a parent can get caught up in a cycle in which their main focus is on others. [They] can forget about their own lives,” notes San Francisco-based psychologist Tamara McClintock Greenberg, Psy.D., M.S. “In addition to helping out their parents, work, finances, friends and children can swallow up [these people’s] emotional resources. Many single people… forgo dating because they don’t have the energy.”

That’s a mistake, Dr. Greenberg says. “It’s very difficult to provide attentive care if you do not feel fulfilled in other ways. It’s important for people in caregiving situations to understand that having a love life [of their own] makes taking care of their parent easier,” she explains, adding: “We’re all better at helping others when we take care of ourselves first. Having a satisfying love life is worth the effort.”

If you’re currently struggling with this issue, Dr. Greenberg (along with author and single caregiver Cyndi Dale) offer four tips for tending to your parents’ needs without neglecting your own:

Tip #1: Don’t judge yourself for needing a social life
“Give yourself permission to think about your own needs,” Dr. Greenberg counsels. “It’s OK to have mixed feelings about taking care of a parent. Try to tell yourself that having fun outside of your care-giving role is important for your mental health. Loving relationships provide a protective shield against stress.”

Tip #2: Maximize your opportunities by looking online
“It takes a lot of thought to consider the kind of partner you want to pursue. It also takes time to ‘interview’ potential mates,” Dr. Greenberg explains. Online dating makes it possible to screen candidates when you have both the time and energy to focus on it.
The right partner would respect your need to help a parent out.
Minneapolis-based Dale, author of Beyond Soul Mates: Opening Yourself to Higher Love Through the Energy of Attraction, is currently dating online while she cares for her ailing mother. “You can still assist and love your ailing parents, but know that they will take every second that you can give them. This means that it’s your job to build time in to peruse [sites] and send and answer emails. Find out what you need to know before you worry about a phone call or a get-together.”

Tip #3: Manage your time wisely
It’s critical to schedule your social activities during times when you can focus on them properly. “You can see mom or dad before or after the phone call, but not during,” Dale advises. And the first few dates can be brief and organized around your caretaking needs. “I have a friend with two ill parents who scheduled her initial get-togethers back to back in a coffee shop. She built in 20 minutes per person, with 10 minutes for a change-over [between dates],” Dale explains. “She met 50 men before meeting The One — and is now married to him.”

Tip #4: Screen your dates carefully by being upfront
Instead of hiding the fact that you’re caring for your parents until you’re sure that this person’s The One, share it early during the dating process. “Would you really want to enter into a long-term relationship with someone who does not understand how busy you are?” asks Dr. Greenberg. “The right partner would respect your need to help a parent out. If someone who can empathize with your caregiving situation, it’s a good indication of how this person may act as a potential mate. Additionally, a good partner would also understand how anxiety-provoking it is to take care of an aging or older parent.”

Now that you’ve decided to get your love life in order, use these tips to strike a healthy balance between dating and your caregiving duties in a way that benefits both you and your parents.

Margot Carmichael Lester is a journalist living in Carrboro, N.C., whose work also appears in airline magazines.
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